A foundation for success

February 19, 2008 9:28:57 PM PST
Getting into college can be tough, but for some students, staying there can pose an even bigger challenge. The organization is called The Posse Foundation. The name comes from a term that teenagers used back in the 80s to refer to their friends. But the concept is being used today to give students support and staying power.

Andre Paul is a senior at Walter Dyett High School on the South Side. In a public school with a reported graduation rate of only 30 percent, Andre is one of a fortunate few.

"I made a promise to myself to better myself as far as education was concerned and take it very seriously," he said.

So far, so good, but now comes an even bigger challenge for the honor roll student -- college.

"I have family members who went to college and didn't finish because they felt like they couldn't push on," Andre said.

The Posse Foundation aims to make sure Andre does not continue that cycle.

"There was a kid who said 'I wouldn't have dropped out of college if I had my posse with me.' It was the 80s. It was a popular term, but what an amazing idea, send young people together as a cohort," said Chastity Lord, Posse Foundation.

The foundation secures full scholarships to top schools for students in need and surrounds them with a network of their peers.

From January through August of the students' senior year, they meet in groups of ten for a training program aimed at helping with the social aspects of college. In the fall, those ten students will leave for college as freshmen together.

"We did all kinds of teambuilding activities that made you think about the world around you in a different aspect," said Tina Andrews.

Tina remembers the process well. She was one of the first students sent in a group from Chicago to Denison University in Ohio. The former Chicago Vocational Career Academy student now holds a master's degree and says knowing there were nine other people on campus who shared common ground was her lifesaver.

"When things got lonely, things got tough, your posse, they were there for you," said Tina. "Everybody had those days like, 'I'm going home,' and they're like, 'you're not going home.'"

Roberto Mendez plans to attend Pomona College in California. The Roberto Clemente senior says the financial and emotional backing will provide much-needed help for him as well as hope for his parents.

"They came as immigrants and worked in factories and stuff, so they're very proud that I have come to school and I've kept my grades up and I'm moving on in the world. That's what they wanted -- a better future for me," said Roberto.

Seventy-one students were selected for this program. Each was nominated by a school or community organization. The Posse Foundation boasts a college graduation rate higher than 90 percent. Compare that to the national average of 75 percent.

This foundation is making a difference in the lives of many Chicago students and their families and the organizers stress that this is not just about rewarding straight a students. It's about providing opportunities to students who have the potential to become great leaders in their communities.